Holiday Entertaining

Five Tips for the (Picky) Kids' Table

December 19, 2012

Navigating holiday meals with picky kids -- your own or someone else's -- can be the most frustrating part of the holiday, when you just want everyone to eat and be merry.

We asked Stephanie Lucianovic, author of Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater's Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate, to share her tips for keeping the picky (and their loved ones) from stressing at the holiday table.

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For some, the holidays mean "food, glorious food!" as we pull out special recipes and hungrily hunker down to spreads of delicious dishes. However, for the littlest picky eater the food-heavy holidays can mean "food, horrible food!" as they recoil from the same endless spreads.

There’s no silver bullet to "cure" picky eating, but here are five tips to help bring fewer grimaces to the kids’ table.

• Being a member of the "clean plate club" is not all it's cooked up to be: Most feeding experts agree that if you force kids past the point of their own fullness you teach them to discount their body's cues. Let them eat what they want and leave the rest.

• Keep the pressure off: Right around the time you stop trying to sell a kid on a food might be the time they try it themselves. This was true for my toddler and Food52’s smoked paprika broccoli. When I finally ceased wheedling "just try it," he actually did. And he liked it! Often kids find their own way.

• Prepare one thing you know the kids will like: Along with whatever else you serve, make sure there's something kid-friendly at the table -- be it bread, fruit, or macaroni and cheese. When they find comfort in the familiar, they might be more inclined to try the unfamiliar.

• Make meals an event: It's no longer a mystery to me why my picky eating self managed to gobble up my family's traditional Christmas Eve escargot. Dining off our coffee table by firelight, we sat on the floor in front of a glittering tree and listened to Christmas carols as we ate. It was an exciting, unconventional meal, and something to look forward to every year. That pageantry is what made me more receptive to snails. Use low-lighting, firelight, music, or special table decorations to make the meal a bit more magical.

• Trust your pediatrician: I'm no doctor, I'm simply a former picky eater turned foodie who survived 27 years eating barely any vegetables, grains, and fish. I'm also a parent, so I know how hard it is not to worry about eating and nutrition. However, if your child's doctor is okay with how your kid is developing, you should be too.

Got tips for dealing with picky eaters? We'd love to hear about them in the comments!


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A former picky eater, Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic is a freelance writer, editor, and lapsed cheesemonger. She has been writing for KQED's Bay Area Bites since its inception and is the website editor for the Emmy-award winning "Check, Please! Bay Area." She has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post,,, and The Boston Globe. An original recapper at Television Without Pity, she also worked on a line of cookbooks for Williams-Sonoma and in the back kitchen of a Jacques Pépin cooking show. Her first book, SUFFERING SUCCOTASH: A Picky Eater's Quest To Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate is a non-fiction narrative and a heartfelt and humorous exposé on the inner lives of picky eaters. She lives with her husband, son, and assorted cats in Northern California.

1 Comment

amyc December 19, 2012
Especially at parties where one wants to avoid food related meltdowns, "prepare one thing you know the kids will like" had made a huge difference for us.